Nuclear Nightmare: Meltdown at Three Mile Island
The most significant nuclear accident
in U.S. history occurred on March 28, 1979, at Three Mile Island
. Located near Middletown, Pennsylvania, the nuclear power plant’s Unit 2 reactor suffered a partial meltdown
due to a series of mechanical failures and human errors. Radioactive gases were released into the atmosphere. The disaster fueled doubts about the safety of nuclear power.
Life Imitates Art
The China Syndrome
, a film starring Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, and Jack Lemmon opened in theaters on March 16, 1979. The film dealt with the consequences of a fictional meltdown at a nuclear reactor. When the film was released, the plot was dismissed by the nuclear industry as far-fetched. Twelve days later, Americans’ worst fears
about nuclear power were realized.
In 1968, construction began on Unit 1 of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant and ended in 1978 when Unit 2 went online. The crisis
began on the morning of March 28, 1979
, at 4 a.m., with a cooling malfunction and was compounded by worker mistakes, resulting in a partial meltdown of Unit 2’s reactor core
. Minimal releases of radiation escaped into the environment. For five terrifying days
, Metropolitan Edison Company, the owner of the plant, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and state officials struggled to get the situation under control.
Contradictory and confusing statements increased fear among the public, which led to panic. Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh urged pregnant women and small children to evacuate the area. Approximately 200,000 residents left their homes. The health impact was declared negligible by a commission
appointed by President Jimmy Carter, but the mental stress residents were subjected to was “quite severe.” There have been conflicting studies
on whether the accident at Three Mile Island increased cancer rates.
effort at Three Million Island cost $1 billion and lasted 14 years. The Unit 2 reactor was permanently closed after the accident, but the plant’s Unit 1 reactor remained operational. The accident led to widespread changes in how U.S. nuclear power plants are regulated and helped galvanize a strong anti-nuclear movement that effectively halted the development of the nuclear power industry in the United States for decades. In 2017, Exelon Corporation, the owner of the Unit 1 reactor announced
that it will close the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in 2019 unless it receives a financial bailout from the Pennsylvania legislature.
For more information on Three Mile Island, check out these related resources available through ProQuest eLibrary
and ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher
Nuclear Energy Research Topic
Three Mile Island: The Inside Story
Three Mile Island Research Topic
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